Kylee O’Connor hurdles opposition on and off the track
It should be hard to live up to the Twitter handle @kyleethemightee, but Eugene native Kylee O’Connor makes “mightee” look like the understatement of the century.
The University of Oregon journalism graduate has quickly developed a loaded, unique résumé in her college tenure while also competing in the 400-meter hurdles and the heptathlon for Lane Community College and the Oregon track and field team.
As a student, she worked for TrackTown USA, The Daily Emerald, KWVA and Title IX. O’Connor currently writes for The Register-Guard and is also the president of Oregon’s chapter of Association of Women in Sports Media.
One would think O’Connor must be exhausted, but former roommate and teammate Danielle Girard said she rarely saw her come home tired.
“She’s a super high-energy person,” Girard said. “She’s pretty good at everything she does.”
People are inspired by and gravitate toward O’Connor, not because of her talent, but because of her humble and driven personality.
“I wish we had nine more Kylee O’Connors,” Oregon track and field head coach Robert Johnson said. “[She’s] just an awesome person, does everything you ask, does everything right, does things off the track as well as on the track. She’s the model kid that everybody would want in their program.”
Everyone who knows her has a story of when they thought O’Connor would be overwhelmed and she proved them wrong.
One particular case was in her sophomore year. While dual-enrolled, O’Connor competed for Lane in the Oregon Twilight Meet while also covering the event for Oregon instructor Lori Shontz’s journalism class.
“She literally ran a race, got changed, came up to the top of the press tribune and just started working on her story,” Shontz said. “She flipped from athlete to journalist like that. … When Kylee does something, she goes 100 percent. To watch her turn that on and off so quickly — it was amazing.”
That determination has garnered plenty of respect from classmates. Former classmate and Register-Guard coworker Isaac Gibson has nothing but praise for his friend.
“That’s where I first experienced what her work ethic is and how she kind of does everything flawlessly,” Gibson said. “She doesn’t get flustered, no matter how much she has on her plate.”
The two met in Shontz’s class, and their contrasting personalities developed a budding rivalry, which led to Gibson challenging O’Connor to a 100-meter race. Although it originally started as a confident claim, it has now become a scenario everyone except Gibson prays for.
“I am all about the so-called Isaac and Kylee rivalry,” Shontz said. “It didn’t matter how much Isaac goaded her, all Kylee did was smile and laugh. She was just too cool to fall for any of it.”
In 2017, her junior season, O’Connor’s 400-meter hurdle time of one minutes,1.31 seconds fell .02 seconds short of making the Pac-12 final. “Aws” rained through Hayward Field as everyone realized how close she was, including the normally silent press area. Shontz had a busy day of instructing her track coverage class but made sure to pause and watch her former student race.
“I congratulated her and she was just so upset, and that shows why she is so good at what she does,” Shontz said. “She wasn’t like, ‘Look at how far I came.’ She was like, ‘Look how much I fell short by.’ It was really clear that she was going to double-down and she was going to do it this year.”
This season, O’Connor not only made the Pac-12 final, finishing third with a time of 58.37 seconds, she added the heptathlon event to score points for her team.
“She’s graduated in journalism already, so she didn’t have anything to do this spring semester,” Johnson said. “So she was like, ‘Hey coach. I want to help out the team some more. So what can I do?’”
Grady O’Connor, Kylee’s father, coach and a former Oregon hurdler himself, cites her “iron will” as the fuel for her busy workload. Thanks to the family’s competitive trait, Kylee is driven to succeed on the track, in the weight room, the classroom and on press row.
“Even at a young age, she was very competitive,” Grady said. “That same competitiveness drives her in the classroom. … I’m on cloud nine watching her.”
Through her many perfections and strengths, however, there is one weakness.
“She’s not good at directions,” Girard said.
One particular run, O’Connor took a wrong turn and ran nine miles rather than her planned three. Another mishap Girard recalled was when O’Connor broke her phone and had to print out directions to run around her hometown.
Although her time on campus is coming to a close, the work ethic she showed in the classroom and on the track will be on display wherever she goes.
“She doesn’t need the motivation of failure to get her to improve,” Gibson said. “She just wants to improve upon herself in everything in life.”
Editor’s Note: O’Connor was previously a member of The Daily Emerald sports staff.
Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter @mavpallack
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